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The Property of the Marquess of Cholmondeley (lots 32-33).
The following two pictures by Philip Reinagle are from a set of three, commissioned for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, by George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1730-1791), nephew of Horace Walpole, the collector and connoisseur. The commission, together with the purchase of works by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785), was prompted by the sale en bloc, in 1778, of the larger part of the celebrated collection of pictures put together by the 3rd Earl's grandfather, Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.
The third painting from this set, 'A secretary bird, a nicobar pigeon, a toucan, a crested oropendola, a common pheasant, a cock of the rock, a green tauraco, and a common roller in a tropical forest', was sold in these Rooms, 20 April 1990, lot 57 (£99,000). Four large paintings by Cipriani were sold from Houghton in these Rooms on 20 April 1990 and 8 December 1994.
Philip Reinagle, originally of Hungarian descent, was born in 1749 in Scotland where his family, believed to be supporters of James Stuart, the Young Pretender, had settled five years earlier. In 1769, he entered the Royal Academy Schools in London and by the 1770s was a pupil of Allan Ramsay, for whom he copied Old Masters and portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 and during his lifetime was to show more than two hundred and fifty paintings of birds, hunting scenes and portraits.
The set of pictures he executed for Houghton are perhaps the artist's masterpieces, and show an astonishing range of species from around the world. Reinagle was known to have painted specimens which were mounted and displayed in Sir Ashton Lever's museum. This was a huge collection of stuffed birds, fossils, shells, natives' weapons and other artefacts, originally housed in Leicester Square, London, and was open to a fee-paying public between 1774 and 1806. Lever purchased newly imported skins from ships returning to England from the colonies and often had the only example of a tropical bird known in Europe. It is probable that his museum also included specimens from the collection of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the famous botanist and explorer. Lever's insatiable collecting, however, brought him to insolvency, and by 1785 he was forced to dispose of the collection. Unusually, he chose to run a lottery for which the prize was the entire collection. The prize went to a Mr. Parkinson, who later moved the collection to a purpose-built hall near Blackfriars Bridge. By 1806 dwindling visitor numbers obliged Parkinson in his turn to auction the collection which was thus dispersed.
The specimens in these paintings by Reinagle, the majority of which would never before have been seen by the viewer, were obviously chosen for their exoticism, and set in what the artist must have considered a suitable habitat. In most cases he painted with accuracy and flair. However it must be remembered that his only sources were museum specimens and the techniques at the time for preserving these were fairly crude, particularly during the course of the long sea voyages back to England, therefore the specimens would sometimes have deteriorated and their colours faded. This has meant that it has occasionally not been possible to accurately identify a particular species.
For a key identifying the species depicted in this painting, please see the printed catalogue.